Rugby legend Michael Leitch helps rising Mongolian player chase dreamOct 03, 2023
Seasoned loose forward Michael Leitch is currently chasing World Cup glory with the Brave Blossoms in France, but he also has another rugby dream — to spread the sport’s popularity in Asia.
Leitch’s first step in making that goal a reality is to provide financial and other support to Norovsambuu Davaajav, a raw, promising youngster he unearthed in Mongolia and invited to play in Japan. Leitch himself came to Japan when he was in high school to study and play rugby, and now 20-year-old Norovsambuu is determined to follow in the footsteps of Leitch in another way — by one day playing for the Brave Blossoms.
On Thursday evening, about 50 members of the Kokushikan University rugby team were running tackling drills on their field in Tama, western Tokyo. With an imposing 1.88-meter, 94-kilogram frame, freshman Norovsambuu stands out among his teammates.
In the spring of 2019, Norovsambuu went through a screening process with dozens of other candidates that measured their running and jumping abilities, among other things. In the end, the field was whittled down to Norovsambuu.
Leitch, 34, himself helped conduct this selection process. He believed Japan, which has become established as Asia’s top rugby power, should help spread the sport to other corners of the continent. To help achieve this, Leitch decided to support a young player by sending them to Japan. Leitch came to Japan from New Zealand on a scholarship when he was 15. Now he wanted to give another young player the chance to make a similar dream come true.
Leitch chose Mongolia because several athletes from that nation had come to Japan and risen to sumo’s highest rank of yokozuna, and he believed people there were physically and mentally strong. He traveled to Mongolia to interview the applicants keen to study in Japan, and he pored over videos and other materials before making the final selection. Ultimately, Norovsambuu’s impressive physique proved impossible to ignore.
Leitch invited Norovsambuu to visit Japan in September 2019, when the Rugby World Cup was taking place here. They met in person for the first time at a hotel in Tokyo. “Mr. Leitch was surprised that my hands were bigger than his,” Norovsambuu said with a chuckle.
A Japanese national team jersey worn by Leitch hangs on the wall of Norovsambuu’s room. When asked about his future aspirations, he said, “Coming to Japan has changed my life. I’ll do everything I can to one day play for Japan, just like Mr. Leitch.”
Leitch, for his part, is still cheering on Norovsambuu.
“Having Norvoo around has made me excited again like in my early days,” Leitch said, “and he has motivated me to keep playing rugby. I like his attitude to learning. I want him to experience all kinds of things, not just in rugby, but also in his studies and day-to-day life.”